Emotional HealthHealing 5 minutes to read

Luke 24:13-31 captures the story of a fellow named Cleopas (a follower of Jesus) and a friend (an unnamed follower of Jesus) who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, which was a seven or eight mile walk. This event took place on Easter morning. These men had not heard about the resurrection. After everything that happened, they were confused, sad, and didn’t seem to know how to move forward with their lives. 

As they were walking, Jesus came along and engaged them in conversation, but Scripture says they were kept from recognizing Him. Jesus explained why Christ had to come and why things were happening the way they did. When they came to Emmaus, Jesus continued on as if He was going farther, but they asked Him to stay and have a meal with them. He consented. While breaking bread with them, they finally recognized Jesus. Then, woosh, He was gone! 

One translation describes the men’s response this way: 

So they said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?”

It was an awakening for both of them. Wow, what an event!

When people are on their own road to Emmaus experience, they will have several things in common:

  • They will be preoccupied with their painful circumstance.
  • They won’t recognize the presence of God. Like one of my favorite authors, Phillip Yancey, says, they might ask, “Where is God when it (life) hurts?”
  • They will experience uncomfortable or even painful feelings like grief, sorrow, confusion, hopelessness, doubt, anger, fear, abandonment, resentment, or sadness, just like Cleopas and his friend.
  • They will feel lost and without direction, wondering, Where do I go from here?

I know this story well. It’s my story. Some of you think you know my core story because of my struggle with sexual addiction that resides in Seven Pillars of Freedom. But there is more to my story than the addiction. The truth is, this new part of my story is a far more powerful and difficult journey than my decades-long struggle with sexual addiction. 

This may seem hard to believe, but please hold back your judgment until you hear my road to Emmaus story.

It started on August 15, 2018. I was on a trip with my cousin, Bill. We were headed back to his home, but took a break near Morgantown, West Virginia, and stopped at a rest area. We were walking into the building when all of a sudden my legs collapsed. It was as if they weren’t even there. No strength in them at all. After falling, I couldn’t even sit up, let alone stand up. This was the beginning of my road to Emmaus experience.  

After trying for over 30 minutes to stand up, and getting nowhere, we had to call 911. They took me to Ruby Memorial, which is the best teaching/training hospital in West Virginia. I was there for 10 days; and at the end of 10 days, I still couldn’t walk! They had given me no diagnosis. Their head neurologist simply said, “Your nerves are all messed up.” A friend and client heard about my plight, arranged my flight, and flew with me back to Portland (Thanks again, Beth and Jeff). Then after the all day flight, he flew back to Ohio. Now that’s a friend.

It took two neurologists in Portland about nine months to come up with a diagnosis. Finally, they told me I had Sporadic Body Inclusion Myositis. It is a rarely diagnosed illness that the CDC in Atlanta calls an orphan disease. It is so rarely diagnosed that it hasn’t been fully studied. There is no cure. My muscles and nerves are dying, first in my extremities. They told me it is a slow moving disease and that I may have had it for 15 or 20 years, and didn’t know it.

As I began to deal with this reality, I became focused on the fearful possibility that I could lose the use of my arms and legs. Eventually, it also might require the use of a feeding tube. I was fully engaged in each of the four steps that Cleopas experienced on the road to Emmaus.

First, I became preoccupied with my medical circumstances and what my future might be.   

Second, I didn’t recognize God’s presence. I started to question God. Then struggled for several months with varying degrees of fear. I was self-preoccupied.

Third, I wanted the cure. I knew God could heal or at least help me. But I wasn’t given any sense of God intervening the way I wanted Him to. I was hurt, felt abandoned, angry, and feared living the rest of my life in some nursing facility. Existing and not living. It was horrible.

Lastly, I kept looking for medical answers, but they just told me that exercise would slow down the disease. This is all they offered. I felt like saying, “Thanks a lot!” (dripping with sarcasm). Of course, I would never say that!  

But years ago, God had given me the answer as I was sitting with my friend, Michael Dye. Michael and I were talking about restoration, and Michael said to me, “Harry, restoration is about accepting life on His terms.” He started to go on and I stopped him. I realized, back then, that this was literally a prophetic word to me.

On my road to Emmaus, God brought these words back to me: Do I trust Him or my circumstances? Can I believe that “nothing seen or unseen can separate me from His love” (like my disease)? Can I trust when God says, “I won’t leave you or forsake you” no matter what happens? Can I depend on God when He says, “I am with you always” even in the midst of what I’m going through?  

This was life-changing for me! I am learning to live in His presence no matter the circumstances. In Scripture, Paul tells us to,

…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV

I am learning to give thanks whether I recognize His presence or not. I am learning to live by faith and not circumstances. Now that I realize He is with me always, it’s like an awakening—no matter the outcome.

As I walk this road, there is so much to learn. I still have moments of doubt, fear, and even anger. But I am learning the absolute faithfulness of God—He causes all things to work together for good, for those who love Him and seek to live according to His purpose. He has also given me great friends, who are walking the road with me. They are a gift!

On your journey of healing, have you had a road to Emmaus experience? Even in the midst of a difficult situation, do you recognize God’s presence? Through all the painful feelings and uncertainty of what comes next, can you trust and depend on God? 

Take it from me, the road to Emmaus is a struggle but it’s been worth it to discover that He is my Good Shepherd.

Harry Flanagan

Harry is a Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional and a Clinician at Pure Desire Ministries. He has been with Pure Desire since 1993. Harry is a licensed pastor who has served in ministry for 30+ years. He also contributed to Pure Desire resources: Seven Pillars of Freedom and Connected.

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